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Mara Davi: Showin' Off

Mara Davi, having made her Broadway debut as Maggie in the revival of A Chorus Line last season, joined the cast of the multi-Tony Award-winning musical, The Drowsy Chaperone, beginning performances as the beloved Janet Van De Graaff on July 31.

BroadwayWorld.com's own Eugene Lovendusky, based in San Francisco, had the opportunity to chat with Davi between shows this Saturday, to discuss her new role and her success as a Broadway new-comer…

Eugene Lovendusky: Here you are, two performances away from finishing your first week at the Marquis Theatre… Congratulations! How's it been? How do you it feel?

Mara Davi: It has been remarkable! It's been wonderful; I feel happy. And already I feel pretty comfortable and already I'm having a lot of fun.

Eugene: Good! The buzz is already brewing about how great you're doing. How have the crowds and cast received you?

Mara: The cast has been amazing! They've been so welcoming, so warm and make me feel right at home and have given me anything and everything to me to make this first week run smoothly, and that's been the best thing.  I've never been a replacement before, so to come into a warm and welcoming company – especially when you have such big shoes to fill – makes a big difference.  And the audience has been great! I'm still trying to get a feel for them; I don't know how much I'll be able to hear them in this new space. But every audience loves this show.

Eugene: Casey Nicholaw says you make it look "effortless."  Is it? With a number like "Show Off," what about this role came easy and what has been most challenging?

Mara: That's very nice of him to say.  It's a huge challenge and at the same time it flies by and suddenly I'm like: "Wow! That was it?" So it's both things at once, it's so weird.  I think the stamina has been a big challenge for the number and finding the spaces to breathe, and giving each trick its own character and its own attitude; that's what I'm working on right now.  "Show Off" specifically has been a really great project to work on because two-months ago, Casey contacted me and he said: "What tricks can you do?" and I said: "Nothing. What would you like?" I started going to gymnastics, just playing around trying to figure out what my body can do and completely surprised myself with the results. I never thought I would be able to do walk-overs, but I've found I definitely can! I tried to juggle… that was a disastrous failure. I started baton-twirling.  I learned off of a DVD how to baton-twirl and I had some friends give me pointers.  Last but not least, once we started rehearsals, they brought in…

Eugene: A rope.

Mara: Yes, someone named Kevin Bernard to teach me the rope! That, right now, is my biggest challenge.  It's still very new to me, it's hard to make it consistent.

Eugene: How do you land on your feet in that backbend in those heels?

Mara: [laughs] You know, I just get my feet in the air and let gravity take its course! That's something that gymnastics helped me with a lot. The people at A Chorus Line would be able to tell you what a goof-ball I was over there.  I like to say I was in my second-childhood.  I was just tumbling and twirling and spinning and falling all over myself while we would be warming-up.  They'd be like: "What is Mara going to bring in today?" The rope especially, I would be hog-tying myself and others back-stage.

Eugene: [laughs] It sounds like you're having a lot of fun on-stage.  Is there a point in The Drowsy Chaperone that you just love?

Mara: Right now, my favorite part would be the end of "Bride's Lament," the monkey song.  Because that's my last challenging moment in the show, and also I've never felt more fabulous than in this gorgeous purple robe, in the spot light, in this final pose belting this note, and then descending into the ground! [laughs] It doesn't get much better than that!

Eugene: [laughs] You beat me to it… I was going to get a little Oops-Girlish for a minute… please tell us about the hair and costumes!

Mara: They are fabulous! I mean, I've worn some gorgeous things, but when I tried these on I felt like a star. They do take the lead in this show, they make me feel fabulous, and they really do create the character. Casey told me that when I come out for my first entrance, he said: "You don't need to do anything! Just walk forward with your arms out and let everything else speak for you. You're fabulous coat, your hair is gorgeous, you just stand there and smile!"

Eugene: How did you balance A Chorus Line performances with rehearsal for The Drowsy Chaperone?

Mara: Fortunately they took it pretty easy on me over here.  I rehearsed one-to-five Tuesday, Thursday, Friday; then in-between shows Wednesday. I think being used to what it takes to do A Chorus Line, and also having so much fun over here; it went fairly easily.  I think the only challenge was being on my feet all day doing "Show Off" and then being on my feet all night with A Chorus Line.  They definitely needed a soak by the end of the night.  Other than that, I think I just knew I had to get through. My voice didn't wear-out on me.  I knew: "This is the way it is, this is the way it has to be, so let's just do it!"

Eugene: Good for you! What will you miss about A Chorus Line?

Mara: More than anything, the family over there.  And I do have a wonderful family I'm coming into here. But we went through a lot together, the whole rehearsal process and opening up this important revival, a year together.  Fortunately I'm across the street, so I end up over there probably every-other-day saying hi at the stage door.  It's just being in that family that I'll miss most of all.  I'll miss singing "At the Ballet," but my fiancée will get to hear me singing it at home in the shower.

Eugene: When did you discover you could dance and liked theatre and had a voice?

Mara: My mom put me in dance when I was three years old, because that's just what you do with little girls; you put them in dance class.  I was doing it and I loved it and I think it was when I was eight that I requested to be in the church play. I don't know why I wanted to do it so badly, but then I did Annie in a community theatre and it just kind of was. I just knew, you know? I'd also grown up with Disney movies, singing to them; and watching movie-musicals. When I discovered they don't really make movies like that anymore, that's when I said: "Okay, then I have to do it on the stage, where they still do this old-school kind of musical," which is clearly where my heart is.

Eugene: Some of my closest friends saw you tap-dancing in Dames at Sea at Cal State Fullerton.  Not long after, you were nabbed up as Peggy Sawyer in the national tour of 42nd Street; now you're here.  Where did you see yourself five years ago?

Mara: Oh my gosh! [laughs] Five years ago! I hoped I'd be here, however… five years ago, doing Dames at Sea, I was still in college. So I would have just graduated college a year ago, and after that I knew I was going to move to New York straight away. I imagined myself with a degree auditioning for my first Broadway show or a tour or anything I could get and subletting a New York apartment somehow. So, I'm still in New York… just a lot further in the process!

Eugene: Was Peggy Sawyer your big-break?

Mara: Yeah, even more than I thought it would be. It's a role I've always wanted to play and it was my first big lead in a professional show.  But that was still a non-equity tour and when I booked it – it was an incredible experience, it was a very quality production – but I didn't know what would happen after that.  I didn't know how other employers would take that.  However, that hooked me up with White Christmas via Randy Skinner.  And White Christmas had the same casting director as A Chorus Line, and the same producer as The Drowsy Chaperone.  So really, 42nd Street propelled everything to follow, more than I ever could have guessed!

Eugene: Wow! Who are or have been some of your personal or professional inspirations along the way?

Mara: Julie Andrews is the one person that I would probably pass-out if I got the chance to meet.  I'd try to hold it together. And Sutton Foster is my idol! I've followed her career, and sing along with her, every song in the car.  I think she's wonderful. Growing up, I wanted to dance with Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire.  I wanted to be Ann Miller and Ginger Rogers.

Eugene: If I may go out on a limb here, with a really a bad metaphor, you've made two Broadway turns in shows that don't have intermissions, which means you've got to be "on" the whole time.  When you do find time to take a break – or take an "intermission," so to speak – what do you like to do?

Mara: In the world! What do I do? That's a great question and I've been wondering the same thing! What did I do this past year with all my free time? I can't even remember! Really, I'm very project-oriented.  All of my focus goes to one thing for a chunk of time.  Earlier this year I spent three months preparing for a cabaret, so every spare moment I had was doing rehearsals and going to find music and listening to music and driving myself crazy! And when that was over, I didn't know what to do so I redecorated my bedroom.  And now I'll be planning my wedding…

Eugene: For real?

Mara: For real! Planning my real-life wedding for next April.  That's the next big project.  My fiancée just moved here a week and a half ago!

Eugene: Well congrats!

Mara: Thank you! My life is really, really going to change now. I have a new show which doesn't drain me nearly as much as A Chorus Line did, so I have a whole bunch of new-found energy; and a new buddy to hang-out with in the form of my fiancée.  Other than that, I like to read and I'm constantly taking classes.  Voice and dance and maybe acting at some-point this year, hopefully.  And I'm going to learn Italian for the honeymoon.  I love projects!

Eugene: All the best to you and what you've got up ahead! I'm sure you'll be roping-in some great new and returning audiences to the show.

Mara: Thanks, Eugene! I hope so too!

Photos: Mara Davi (headshot) 2007; Mara Davi in The Drowsy Chaperone (courtesy SpotCo) 2007; Mara Davi in A Chorus Line (by Paul Kolnik) 2006

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Eugene Lovendusky Eugene Lovendusky graduated summa cum laude from SFSU with a BA in Writing for Electronic Media and a minor in Drama. Raised in the SF (read more...)

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